Nargis Kofta, from the New York World’s Fair (adapted from Hotpoint Storybook Kitchen Cookbook, 1964)


Many of the international dishes represented in the Hotpoint Storybook Kitchen Cookbook will be familiar to modern American readers.  Some were already popular, like gazpacho and sauerbraten, which are common submissions in mid-1960s church recipe collections.  Dishes like tabbouleh and couscous are now standard fare at Mediterranean restaurants, and satay and nasi goreng are staples at Southeast Asian restaurants.

By contrast, nargis kofta, the dish from India will seem positively baffling to twenty-first century readers in that it requires heroic amounts of beef.  I realize that India is ethnically and religiously heterogeneous, but if I were choosing a recipe to represent the entire sub-continent I wouldn’t pick one that’s forbidden to the majority of its citizens.    To further confuse things, the recipe is a form of Kofta – a staple in Mediterranean cuisine but not usually associated with India.

That’s not to say the World’s Fair got it wrong.  If we are being precise, nargis kofta is a form of Indian fusion cuisine, albeit from a centuries old cultural exchange.  Nargis kofta is an example of Mughlai cuisine, a confluence of Indian and Persian cuisine with origins in the 16th and 17th centuries.  It’s traditionally made with minced lamb or mutton, but among Indian Muslim populations could just as well be made from beef or a mixture of beef and lamb.  An unusual combination for Americans’ chicken and veggie heavy perception of Indian cuisine, but not as crazy as it sounds and certainly more accessible to the mid-century American home cook.

Nargis kofta is superficially similar to a traditional Scotch egg.  The basic construction is the same: both involve a cooked egg wrapped in a ground meat patty, both are fried, but the similarities end there.   The flavor profiles are entirely different.  A Scotch egg is more like a low-carb breakfast sandwich, while nargis kofta resembles a meatball curry.  The ground beef is seasoned with aromatic spices and served in a spicy yogurt sauce; there’s no mistaking what part of the world this comes from.

Don’t be intimidated by the whole egg-inside-of-a-meatball thing; it’s not as hard as it sounds and the recipe is forgiving if you don’t get it just right.  As long as you’re not stingy with the beef – I ended up using about 1/4 lb per half-egg – it won’t be a problem.   Smash the beef into a flat patty.  Place the half-egg yolk side down onto the patty, wrap the rest of the patty around the backside, and pinch to seal.   When the beef cooks you’ll get some natural contraction.  You’ll probably see some egg peeking through on a few of them, but it’s not going to fall apart on you.  I also recommend cooking the kofta just long enough to brown the outside and then finish the cook in the sauce – this seems to limit unwanted cracks.

The weak link in this recipe is the sauce, which – as written – tends to separate into yogurt solids and liquid.  It tastes fine but looks pretty gross.  I’ve replaced the beef stock in the original recipe with beef bouillon, which seems to prevent separation while still providing the requisite richness and salt.

 

 

Nargis Kofta, from the New York World’s Fair (adapted from Hotpoint Storybook Kitchen Cookbook, 1964)

  • Preparation: 30 min
  • Cooking: 30 min
  • Ready in: 1 h
  • For: 6 hearty servings
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Ingredients

For the

For the sauce:

Instructions

  1. Peel hard-boiled eggs and slice in half.
  2. Grind cardamom seeds, peppercorns, and coriander seeds in a spice grinder. Add ground spices, mint, and salt to ground beef in a large bowl and knead lovingly until all spices are combined. Divide beef into portions of ~1/4 lb.
  3. To assemble the kofta, smash beef portion into a thin patty. Place a halved egg yolk side down onto the patty, wrap the rest of the patty around the backside, and pinch to seal. Add more beef if necessary to get a good, solid meat casing. They will look crazy big, but it's okay. Each kofta might be the size of a small apple. You may not use all of the hard boiled eggs. You can mix them into the yogurt sauce at the end or just eat them plain.
  4. about 1-2 minutes per working surface. You might see the egg peeking through and you might see some pink. Both are okay - the meatballs will finish cooking in the yogurt sauce. If the meat casing starts to disintegrate, patch it with additional beef. It is very forgiving.
  5. In a large dutch oven melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the onions and fry for a few minutes until they start to soften, then add all of the remaining ingredients except for the yogurt. Continue to fry, stirring occasionally, until mixture is fragrant and onions are soft - about 5 minutes. If you brown the onions it's not the end of the world, but that's not really what you're after.
  6. Stir in the yogurt and cooked kofta and bring to a soft boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and continue simmering for 5-10 minutes until kofta is cooked through. Serve with basmati rice and veggies.

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